Development and security — intertwined
The president of the World Bank, Dr Jim Yong Kim, has paid Pakistan a visit, and although he trod very carefully in his public communications, his words bear close attention. He said that the World Bank was not an ideological institution, and portrayed it more as an advisory body to those states it engages with, providing what he termed “evidence” as to what has worked and what has not in terms of lifting populations out of poverty. “We do not tell people what to do,” he said in an address to the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi on February 10. Possibly not, but the subtext is that the World Bank expects its advice not just to be listened to, but heeded.
Guarded he was, but also to the point — Pakistan has a severe problem both now and in the future when it comes to the stunting of its children. As many as 48 per cent of all children under five suffer from inhibited growth and development, one of the highest levels of stunting in the world. Fifteen years or more in the future, these children may not be able to participate in a more developed digital economy. The food insecurity of today is going to feed the jobs insecurity of tomorrow. Stunted children make for a stunted workforce a generation hence. Stunted children are less likely to be adequately educated and are anyway poorly served by the government in terms of educational provision.
The issue of stunting thus has implications that reach far beyond nutritional needs and deep into the way in which the nation develops in the medium-to-long term. With half of all under-fives stunted today, the future looks less than rosy. The needs of pregnant women — indeed women in general — must be better addressed if inequalities were to be mitigated, followed by creating the kind of industries which would create jobs for a future generation, said Dr Kim. Given the failure to reach Millennium Development Goals, in many instances by a mile, Dr Kim might be forgiven for sounding unduly optimistic.
Moving down the list of ailments to be remedied, Dr Kim stressed the need to improve the energy sector, something this government has had a very mixed report card on. As with all matters pertaining to privatisation, the government appears divided, in two minds, demonstrative of a paucity of joined up thinking across federal and provincial administrations and a lack of a unified national vision that transcends political rhetoric. This was a time of opportunity, said Dr Kim, when Pakistan needs to be more ambitious as well as maintaining the momentum of reforms that are targeting higher economic growth. He rightly had warm words for the government when it came to the stabilisation of the economy over the last three years, but there are inconsistencies and failures within the wider picture, and much more needs to be done in terms particularly with raising standards of public health and education.
Visiting dignitaries of the stature of Dr Kim come with sound advice. The World Bank has long supported Pakistan across a spectrum of needs but the capacity to respond to treatment has been patchy to say the least. We acknowledge that there have been improvements, and not just the result of the efforts of the current dispensation, but as indicated above, there are vast systemic problems that can only be addressed by a radical rethink of the way Pakistan, all of Pakistan, rids itself of its ills and retreats from donor dependence. Dr Kim is right in saying that now is a time of opportunity, but to take advantage of opportunity hard decisions have to be made and then implemented. ‘National plans’ have a track-record of running into the sand once the initial impetus fades. Development cannot be separated from security and for Pakistan, the two are eternally entwined — and battling the curse of stunting would be a fight well worth winning.
RIP Fatima Surayya Bajia
The past several months have not been very kind to Urdu literature, with writers who have served us for decades leaving this world one after the other. Pakistan has lost Intizar Hussain, Abdullah Hussain, Jamiluddin Aali and now Fatima Surayya Bajjiya, leaving not only this country, but the entire subcontinent much poorer. These were all towering literary personalities, who possessed deep intellect and great insight into society.
With Bajia’s departure on February 10, a glorious chapter in Pakistani drama has come to a close. After a prolonged fight with cancer, she died at 85, leaving behind numerous works that have lived through the decades. Bajia gave us some of the best plays of Pakistan Television (PTV) history, such as Aroosa, Shama, Afshan, Ana and Aagahi. Before the advent of television, she also wrote scripts for radio and worked not only as a playwright, but also as an activist and author. Her contributions to Pakistani culture and literature were invaluable.
Bajia is said to have written nearly 300 plays, focusing particularly on women, children, history and culture — areas in which works have increasingly become a rarity in Pakistani drama. Having lived a difficult life, raising nine siblings on her own, she was able to communicate social complexities in her plays in ways that everyone could relate to. As one of the pioneering playwrights of PTV, Bajia was a source of inspiration to many, not just for her work as a writer, but also because she led the way for other women to come into the field of drama. She courageously weathered all the odds that accompany being a professional woman in Pakistan. While tributes have poured in for Bajia from the heads of different political parties, the prime minister and the president — and it is heartening to see her services recognised by all — it would be an even greater tribute not to let literature and culture die with the death of our great writers, poets and dramatists. The importance of quality fiction and drama cannot be overstated in these times and it is hoped that the state helps build institutions that foster the work our intellectuals stood for.